I’m not talking faving something on dA. After all that quickly becomes multiple things, not singular. No, it’s the singular best thing that bothers me – the inflexible, intransigent, and defining thing.
As a kid I went along with this kind of thing:
What’s your favourite colour?
What’s your favourite car/brand of jeans?
Who’s you’re favourite band/footballer/cartoon character?
Who’s your best friend?
What’s better: Pepsi or Coke?
What would be your best job?
“Who’s your favourite artist?”
Or best of all from my son, Lorcan, when he was about 9 – “Dad? What’s your favourite fly?”!??!
Ultimately what happens is that we start to genuinely invest in this kind of thinking. We carve ourselves, slowly but inextricably, into inflexible stone aspects of ourselves, eventually crushing many of the broader possibilities of what we might potentially be. We start to define ourselves by this narrow list of favorite things.
Think about it:
“I’m an ass man”
“I’m a Manchester United supporter”
“I drive a BMW”
“I don’t do sci-fi”
“Hey, I don’t hug”(believe it or not, that’s 100% verbatim!)
“I hate pussy pinko liberals” (again, verbatim.)
“I’m a Marvel guy”
“I only read DC”
“comics are for geeks”, etc.
As I’ve grown older it’s occurred to me that actually I really don’t have favourite things. I used to trot stuff out without thinking – “Led Zep are my favourite band” being amongst the most usual – but it wasn’t really true. Sometimes I’m into Pink Floyd more, or David Bowie, or Jeff Buckley, or Bellowhead… or any number of bands and artists, new and old. As it turns out I like lots of musical genres, and I’m not really defined by any of them. True, I’m a novice when it comes to jazz – and it doesn’t currently resonate with me very deeply. That said, I’ve enjoyed learning about it in documentaries, and I’m working on it, I can respect it, and there are exceptions. So why should I put myself out there as just a rock guy, when really that’s just one (albeit quite large) aspect of my taste?
And yet people do this all the time:
“I’m a punk!”
“prog is shit!” (verbatim)
“I love hiphop. Hate rock!”
I definitely don’t have a favourite colour, and why would or should I? (Why are you even asking? What could it possibly matter to anybody, unless you have a personal stylist?!!?)
We have to think about the consequences of this kind of completely ingrained and narrow thinking. There are so many ramifications that when you actually start thinking about it you start to realize that it likely has a profound effect on all of society, and it goes on ever day under our noses.
It was reported to me recently that a couple who had spent time in Africa some 45 years ago had made the statement that “African’s don’t put the same value on life that we do” – “we” being ‘the West’, though it’s debatable as to whether they were actually referring about Africans as a race, or whether it was with regard to the sociopolitical situation due to their geographic location, history and demographics. Either way, it’s a statement 45 years out of date from people who were there at a time when such comments were commonplace, understanding was slight, and also by people who had not made very much effort to learn about how things had either changed in that time, or why (assuming their original comment was accurate, which is doubtful) it might still be the case. As a result, it’s bad information that they carved in stone years ago and stuck with, and now tend to preach as fact, whereby it stands a good chance of becoming a meme for another generation. A perpetuated bigotry.
We’re in an age where we are expected to be easy to categorize. We are homogenized to the point of blandness – metrosexual, in our sports-casual, or business-casual veneers. We know the freaks are still out there, but we’re changing that. And don’t forget to vote for your favourite act on X-Factor kids! (Robert Plant or Bob Dylan would have been thrown out in the first round. Actually in Dylan’s case he might have been made one of the comedy no-hopers, the judges stifling laughter behind bejeweled and perfect fingers.) These lists help companies predict trends, and the narrower the lists the easier that is to do. The same lists are circulated to keep the same items/acts/celebrities in the spotlight – the ones they want us to see. And the vast majority of consumers are happy to go along with this. Just look at the numbers!
We become what have defined ourselves to be, and as a result we grow limited – stunted even.
Favourites only serve to create division, and to shut down our capacity for learning and growth. They are not, on the whole, about defining ourselves. This is because choices are branded. You pick a kind of music then you can be tagged with a type of clothing, or reading material, or the kind of films you want to see. You become a category, not an individual. More and more programs on websites start to make our choices for us – and this is promoted as a kind of virtual boutique that especially caters to us. But all it actually does is kill chance – the chance we might discover something unexpected in a place we might never choose to look. The more you click off what you don’t like, and on what you do, the less you will ever see. You’ll be a cliche, a branded item, a good little consumer.
I think we should be ENCOURAGED to engage with many things we don’t think we like. (Note: I’m not talking about clear ethical things like racism, bigotry, etc. Some things it is absolutely fine to NOT like!) I think it can be extremely rewarding to watch a documentary on a subject you had not thought you were interested in, or try a genre of music, or read a book you would ordinarily never pick up. I think it can really help to understand both sides of whatever you are into – and that requires actually KNOWING about both sides of any argument.
What are your current pet hates?
Sudden change is born of something slower.
Consideration is rarely a factor.
What granite edifices we are inevitably destined to become – even we who claim to embrace possibility and change, who claim we want it and will it – if we are not vigilant!
I only just discovered this intransigence in myself – and I’d have told you to your face it wasn’t true. I’d have sworn it! – and I’m not bloody having it.
If I can’t listen to my own advice I have no right to a voice. I’m a hypocrite.
I have, I realize, not properly listened to the small, true voice of my creativity. I’ve hidden away from it, except for a few fleeting excursions.
I’ve failed it.
And I have pandered to an industry. I’ve portrayed a medium as one of ‘true art’, when reality clearly demonstrates it so rarely is. I’ve tried, to the detriment of any sensible career, to be free of fashion, expectation and commercial shackles – only to fearfully retreat back to the safety of more acceptable, mainstream styles I could riff on, or rip-off. I lacked true conviction for fear that I would further alienate myself from a mainstream that had already tried me out and decided I didn’t have the right kind of consistent, reliable, easy-to-follow trajectory. Or that I was too unpredictable. Or that I was just not the right fit.
But still, in the face of a generally unloving parent – which is how I cast the comics business – I didn’t ever fully cut myself free, and give myself the time to figure out exactly what it was I REALLY wanted to be.
How can this have taken me so very long to realize?
I was 18 when I got into comics, and that introduction was all about mimicry. Could I paint like Don Lawrence, and be his assistant? Could I draw anything like Bolland? Jim Lee? Bisley?
Yes I could, and yes I did.
And like many others too – but not quite as well, and not with the conviction, the honesty of knowing it was MY art, or that it was MY story.
I have been a commercial syphon, a cypher. Not a ‘real’ artist at all – not for a long time.
And that’s fine, if that is what I want to be – a commercial artist. An interpreter. There is greatness in that. I’m not knocking it. But it’s not, nor has it ever really been, the journey I am on. And that’s what is dawning in me.
And yet – I have never had the time to learn how to actually BE me. Not in my comic work at any rate. Not really. Not in any greater artistic sense.
We – myself and my wife, and a few visionary friends – started Mam Tor publishing in 2005 so that creators could be the artists they truly wished to be. Madefire has continued that tradition. Both of these companies have dramatically reduced my creative output, but what little I have done – with really only one exception – has failed to take me away from the clichés that my career has been forged upon.
In grabbed and hurried moments I have reached for artistic heights that I have never had time to evolve. I have fallen back on every trick I ever learned, and every corner I have ever cut – and I have cut a great many! I have rested on so many laurels, and cursed my lack of attention, the slipping away of that will to draw, as I yet, and unexpectedly, continued to grow as a publisher and as a writer.
I have a book due out some time in the next few months called ‘Paradise Rex Press, Inc.’ and it is the only authentic piece of art I have ever created. That is the single exception, and it was channeled and excreted. It was a birthing, not a contrivance. It was, and is, an honest dishonesty, as all good art should be.
I have discovered, over the last near-decade, that my true self is far better expressed through words these days, and that my visual art is woefully lacking.
And in that revelation there’s a great joy in realizing that I have this wonderful opportunity to NOT draw – at least for a while. To regroup, and rethink. That is exciting to me.
If I have a dream, an ambition for my future beyond this executive, CCO life that was born of necessity – because somebody had to do it with the right conviction and the right ethical, artistic belief – it is to have the strength of my convictions artistically.
I wish for the time to explore, and make mistakes, and actually do some learning. I wish to deconstruct everything I’ve come to take for granted, and to not fall back into the same complacent routine, fraught with doubt and failing to speak to my ethics, my philosophy or my expectations.
If I were to make a movie – and that is also a dream of mine, like so many other artist (another cliche really) – it would not be a blustery actioner. I know that now. It would likely be poetic and humane, a slow-burn elegiac affair with little of any mainstream intent. Likewise, I suspect, my next comic project – whatever that may be.
At some point I hope to create again – to be able to dedicate a month, or year, or much longer, to making work that matters to me, and is honest. That dares to be flawed and imperfect, and that I don’t judge against my heroes – where it will inevitably fall short, as it always has.
I wish for this. I dream of it.
For now, though, there’s a revolution going on that has picked me out as one of its new champions. I’m scared, and excited – a sensation that has doggedly refused to let up over the last few years, and has indeed intensified.
I hope it works.
I hope writers and artists, and readers, and publishers, take up the call. I hope we see the transformation that is so possible, so achingly near-tangible. I hope all this.
And then – art!
Creativity – where you get your ideas… this a theme that I seem to have been running up against more than usual over the last year. At an event in Vegas I watched Neil Gaiman and John Cleese talk about this, having prepared my own talk around the theme – certainly with regard to the origins of imaginative storytelling.
The brain represses vivid memory when you’re awake. This is, of course, a natural defense mechanism. If every time we thought about anything that had terrified us it was conjured in all it’s dramatic three-dimensional glory we would be in a ceaseless realm of fear, unable to distinguish perceived mental constructs from real ones. We happen to know that all our perceptions are actually only constructs of the mind, so the way we interpret this data depends on our level of consciousness.
It’s for this reason that memories of dreams can be AS vivid and fully formed as those of real events. Dreams can often feel like a waking reality as we experience them, because that wall that enables the distinction between reality and memory isn’t present in the sleep state.
Mental world-building is what gives us the ability to do more than just decode symbols when we read. We can interpret them as sound and imagery. If we remember a great book it’s not the words on the page we see in our mind, it’s a place, faces, moments, incidents. We can even imagine sounds and smells. These memories are as clear as waking moments, and we really take this for granted in pretty much everything we do.
I have often wondered if that barrier that separates the unconscious from the conscious is notably more transparent when it comes to creative people. I’ve watched dreamers slip into other worlds for a while when fully awake. They are not seeing what is actually in front of them. I can attest to this myself, having a wealth of family anecdotes to draw on regarding vain attempts to get my attention when I’ve inadvertently drifted into a fugue state while mulling over something or other!
And I sometimes wonder if it’s an ability to picture alternatives to arguments, and to embrace all possibilities before settling on what seems to be the best, most lucid argument that separates an open-mind from a closed one.
I get close to lucid dreaming – in the sense that I often figure out I am dreaming and after that I’m able to enjoy the ride somewhat more, though rarely control it. In that state I can get quite analytical, and even scary events can be interpolated coldly. I usually try to really examine my environment when this happens – it’s pin-sharp and HD – but what I tend to find is that it’s very elastic. Nothing stays still. I can’t read a book as it’s likely to turn into a bunch of flowers, or a large insect. But if I keep moving, just drift along, it’s often breathtakingly beautiful.
Beyond dreams, which have inspired a large portion of the stories I’ve written, it’s life and living and learning that gives up the most riches. And we do well, as creatives, to be open to the vastness that nature and science afford us. It’s in living, and learning to know myself, that some of the more interesting aspects of my novel God Killers came about. You will all, I’m sure, have realized by now I’m a liberal-minded peace-loving man. I abhor war and violence. At the same time I loved fantasy literature as a young man, before realizing that it generally glorifies war (this is changing, I hasten to add, but it’s still true of a great many of the classics.) The huge, heroic saga at the heart of my novel suddenly conflicted with my ideals, causing a really interesting tension – making me look at the scenes I was crafting in a new light over the seven years it took to write. I emerged from that experience a very different person. It forced me to look deeper, and it made the work a lot better.
For me, creativity – the well-spring of your ideas – is born of three things – what you learn, what you live and what you love.